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Aster T-3 / BR 89 70-75

a review by Chip Rosenblum




Scale/Gauge:  1/32 scale, 45 mm gauge

Weight:  2.16 kg

Length: 271 mm

Width: 96.2 mm

Height:  130.4 mm


Wheel Arrangement: 0-6-0T (6 wheeler)

Wheel Diameter:  34 mm spoked type

Cylinders:  2 Cylinders made of Phosphor Bronze, Bore 10 mm x Stroke 15 mm

Valve Gear:  Allan Straight Link Valve Gear with Screw Reverser


Boiler Type:  Type "C" with 2 Fire Tubes of 12 mm diameter

Water:  110 ml at 80% full

Pressure:  3 kg/cm

Fittings:  Safety Valve, Regulator Valve, Blower Valve, Check Valve, Water Gauge and Pressure Gauge.

Lubricator:  Roscoe Displacement Type


Burner:  4 Wick Tube Alcohol Burner

Fuel Tank Capacity:  50 ml at 80% full, a bush for Aster Utility Car is provided for longer periods of running


Coupler:  European Standard Hook Coupler (Height 33 mm)

Minimum Radius:  0.6 m (Negotiable on LGB radius)


When asked if I’d build the kit, then write a review of the new Aster T-3, I with the exuberance of anyone ignorant of what, exactly, they’re getting into, said “sure”.


A large, brown cardboard box arrived from Steam in the Garden.  On opening it, the first thought that crossed my mind is that it was nearing the gift-giving season, as peering out at me was a dappled green shiny cardboard box, with an iridescent silver Aster logo and name embossed on the box.  My next thought was that it looked like a box of Holiday fruit from Harry and David.  Then I noticed that the strapping tape around the original cardboard box, painted silver, would make excellent safety tread material…Maybe I could quit here.


Actually, it was refreshing to know that I was in way over my head, and that any engine that required two instruction books to build was probably going to sit on my shelf forever.  Except for Ron’s deadline.


Reading through the instruction book and diagram book of assembly was incredibly reminiscent of a long-past Christmas Eves with a bicycle due by dawn.


I am not sure of Tab A, much less Slot B, and there’s no instruction as to whether to remove the staples from the first page to free up the sandpaper and ceramic sheet.


Actually, the directions and diagrams are quite clear once work begins.  It is much better than theorizing with just a book in from of you.  It does take some study for both orientation of the parts and insertion points of screws and fasteners, but between the instruction manual and the illustration book, if you take your time, the step-by-step method is an excellent approach.


I did find that having a better assortment of tools was critical to precise assembly.  The tools provided by the kit are marginal at best, and an assortment of good quality small tools made some otherwise difficult fastener installation go very easily. 


At the end of sep one (the assembly of the buffers, drivers, and side rods to the chassis), I stopped to look at what progress was made and the engineering and instructions involved.  First of all, I think that it’s a very well thought out kit.  The parts that need to be factory built (chassis, drive rods and bushings) are, and the assembler is given a stable base on which to initiate building the engine.


The drivers turned freely, after a little “running in” with oil under finger spinning, but if they hadn’t the instructions provide good trouble shooting tips and areas to look at for binds.  I like the fact that they don’t make the assumption that everything will always go smoothly, and provide a sense of direction as to where to look for a fix.  This helps relieve creative paranoia if things don’t go exactly to plan, and a good roadmap if things get a bit off track.


The next sep entails assembling the cylinders.  The instructions say to lap the valve face of the cylinder castings and the slide valves to remove the milling marks, and to provide steam-tight mating surfaces.  I place a glass slab in a pie pan filled with water to just cover the glass, thus providing a water lubricant for the entire process and ability to wash away debris while lapping.  This is a critical step for providing steam-tight valves for optimum operation.  This is also the first item I found in the kit that represented poor quality control.  One of the cylinder faces had fairly extensive linear scratches, and was also an extremely porous casting.  With heavy lapping the scratches can be removed, but the porosity cannot.  This was a casting that should have been scrapped.


The other casting was in pretty good shape, except it, too, should have been scrapped due to a major gouge leading directly out of one of the valve ports.  When you are faced with a major reduction of material to reach a smooth surface, forget starting with the 1000 grit paper included in the kit.  Start with 400 or 500 grit (up to 400 grit silicon carbide paper can be found at almost any woodworkers supply house, and from there up to 2000 or so can be found at an automotive finishes supplier). 


The art of polishing is to remove scratches with finer scratches, so stick with the coarsest paper you choose until the surface has even scratches. Them move to the 600, then 100, and then, to be really precise, to 1500 grit.  Make sure to rinse your castings, slab, pan, and change the water between grits, as even one grit of coarser material in the lapping pan can ruin the finish of the next lapping grit.  Although I was left with the porosity in the one cylinder, and the gouge from the valve port in the other, the faces on the whole were mirror smooth before I proceeded.


This sectional also briefly footnotes to make sure that the valve block slides freely in the slide valve prior to proceeding.  Check this carefully, as my castings would not move at all.  A brief lap with 600 grit on the sides and bottom, and a slight radius to the edges left them sliding like trying to get to the car in an Ohio winter!


Another caveat here is applying gasket eliminator to the gaskets while assembling the cylinders.  The “tiny bead” obtained directly from the tube is only “tiny” in 12” = 1’ scale for those reassembling a water pump on a 1942 Willys Jeep!   This is not so in 1:32.  My suggestion is to put a small dab of the compound on a plastic coffee can lid, and use a smooth metal tipped implement to pick up, and daintily dab and spread the compound.  This works well, saves cleanup, and leaves your cylinder bore free of a large glob of squeezed out glop!  The rest of the assembly sequence went very well, with all of the parts correctly machined and accurately fitting together. 


As I began assembling he valve gear, I noticed in an additional technical bulletin provided by Aster that the drive rod on the main coupled driver may have been assembled slightly askew, and, if so, it was to be returned and a replacement obtained.  I mention this as, if you read this prior to initiating assembly of your kit, it was save time and hassle of undoing assembly to retrieve the drivers, as I had to do.  It will also save downtime waiting for a replacement part. 


One observation while waiting for the part so assembly can proceed: I find working on this kit a marvelous, almost Zen-like, process.  Although I’ll look forward to the finished product, it will be a bit of a letdown to complete the kit, as the act of working on it is incredibly relaxing.  Yes, there is great concentration that removes the real-world awareness and cares from my daily life, and provides a bit of a sanctuary in the midst of normal confusion.  For that reason alone I could recommend building this kit.


A nice observation on both quality and responsiveness at this point is to not that the correctly aligned part was shipped the same day that Aster received notification, and arrived within one week of that date.



So then I was able to proceed to step 3, “Assembling the Allan valve gear”.  My first response at opening the parts bag and looking at the illustration was that I was back in an organic chemistry final.  It wasn’t enough to know the formulas, but I was once again faced with the spatial orientation of the bonds.  This where both the instructions and the illustrations really proved just how well thought out and sequentially constructed they were.  By taking each step at a time, the instructions walked me through a very complicated assembly in way that made the process doable, and the resulting assembly accurate.  Now I can’t wait (but I must) to see if it operates and that I really did get everything in the right place at the right time. 


The next step comprised installing the footplate and the adjustment of the Allan valve gear linkage and slide valve setting.  The illustrations were very clear at this point, and the instructions good on how to introduce compensations to adjust the slide valves.  At this point it was time for the air test.  This is the moment of either triumph or disaster, in the sense of discovering if what was what was assembled to date actually works, or if one must go back to ground zero.  It worked well, and, after a few minutes, I was able to reduce the air pressure to about 10psi and have the mechanism tick over like a Swiss watch.


This test is an excellent opportunity to check clearances during running, as there is some lateral play in the valve gear this not readily apparent when hand-spinning the drivers during installation.  Pay particular attention to any ticking or knocking sounds, as some of the pins used to install the linkages have very little clearance, and this is the time to provide any adjustments. 


The installation of the ceramic shielding is pretty much a cut and try affair.  I have three suggestions for this step, however. 


The first is to not install any piece until have tried it in place, as the measurements given in the instructions and illustrations neglect clearances for some of spot welded struts.  This fitting process will also allow the builder to mark and then cut out on the bench any areas needing it, thereby making your cutouts much neater and less like to disturb the shielding once in place.


The second thing to do is to ignore the step directions and to install the number plates before installing the shielding, and not after.  This is because if you install it after, there is no way to get to the little tabs to bend them down to secure the number plates. 


The third item to check is the smokebox door hinge holes and the smokebox handle clearance hole.  The wire supplied for this part is supposed to be 0.8 mm, but turned out to be 1.0 mm and the holes for the hinges in the smokebox door and on the smokebox had to be enlarged accordingly.


There are no instructions for the T-3 for installing the smokebox door handle, but if you read the BR 89 instructions, the directions are there for installing a spring pin through the handle shaft.  This acts as the detent when the door is closed as well as retaining the handle.  However, the clearance hole is far too small for the spring pin, and I had to enlarge mine to get the spring pin to fit with a press it without risking damage to the handle by having to apply to much pressure.  I finally decided that it was not worth forcing at all, and I drilled it out to a tight slide fit and installed it using a bearing-retaining compound, which seemed to work quite well.


The kit then proceeds to the boiler and fitting assemblies.  I found the boiler well constructed and finished, and with a logical and nicely illustrated sequence.  The only caveat I would issue for this step is when assembling the sight glass fitting, allow sufficient time to complete it in one go.  This is because aligning the sight glass is a fiddly proposition.  Although the Loctite 510 gasket compound states a set in 2 to 12 hours, I found that an Einsteinium time dilation applied and there wasn’t a whole lot of working time until it set enough that I came concerned that adjustments would possibly break the bead seal.


Also, as a “native” American, I was fresh out of 6mm rods, and so was reduced to using the slight glass itself to tighten and align the fittings.  This is akin to taking some of the retirements fund to Vegas, but in this case it worked out well.  Just take it slow.  Don’t prematurely tighten anything until you’re satisfied with the alignment.


The air test of the boiler back head fittings (I got lucky – no leaks) showed no air coming from the blower pipe when the blower valve was opened.  On disassembly, I noted that the blower outlet pipe from the steam dome was plugged with a flux bloom from the original soldering operations on the boiler.  This easily cleaned out, but do visually check the fittings before assembly to make sure they are open and clean.


Attaching the boiler and smokebox to the chassis is a particularly gratifying step!  This is because, at least visually, one has now attained “engine.”  The procedures are logical and well illustrated, and show good engineering and instructions.  However, (there’s always one of those, isn’t there?) under the “Hints from Heloise” corner, the boiler is attached to the chassis using four bolts.  The drawings show this but the instructions don’t.  The rear two bolts are already in place when the buffer beam was attached early on, so pull those prior to fiddling the boiler in place and save yourself the trouble of removing the boiler and repositioning it a second time.  With all four bolts in position its’ a very secure installation. 


The rest of the assembly procedure went according to the instructions and illustrations, with only the normally expected adjustments of any kit during the finishing phase.  I found that the hardest part was cutting the wicks to the correct length and stuffing the wick tubes correctly, but even that is just tedium, and not difficult.


The big smile happened when I fired up the finished T-3 and watched it run!  When, this is Ohio in the winter, so the “run” occurred with the engine on two bricks on top of the chest freezer in the basement.  I can’t wait until the spring thaw so actually see it running on track! 


All in all, building this kit was as immensely satisfying experience.  The engineering, instructions, and support created by Aster in developing the T-3 combine to make an impressive product, and I would not hesitate to recommend the kit and the engine to one and all! 


This article originally appeared in Issue No. 34 (Vol. 6. No. 4) of Steam in the Garden. Appreciation for permission to reproduce it on SouthernSteamTrains.com is expressed to Chip Rosenblum, author; and to Ron Brown, Publisher / Editor of Steam in the Garden.


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